One of the things I have come to appreciate as I’ve started using nutrition to address my health is how my nutritional needs are unique, not exactly the same as anyone else’s. It’s easy to believe in our culture of widespread diets and fitness advice that there is one “right” way to become healthy, and when that way doesn’t work for us, we get frustrated and discouraged. It’s easy to compare ourselves to our friends, family and strangers online who seem to be having success with one plan and think we should obviously have the same success. But your nutritional needs are informed by your individual biochemistry. There is not one diet trend that will absolutely work for everyone, because everyone’s biochemistry is a little bit different. When you are willing to tune in to your body and determine how certain foods make you feel, you’ll learn more about your unique nutritional needs and be able to create a plan that works for you.
If you’ve done any research or study on diet and nutrition, you’ve probably come across the term oxidation rates. Oxidation is the process of turning food into fuel for your body, or the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates into energy for your body to use. Every body will process proteins, fats and carbs and use them for fuel. However, not every body will function optimally with the same combination of fuels. This can put some perspective on why there is so much differing evidence and advice out there regarding health and nutrition. What works for one person may not be ideal for the next because of their individual biochemical makeup.
Now, I’m sure when you read the word metabolism your mind immediately went to weight loss. There is certainly information out there regarding oxidation and metabolic types, but that’s not where I will focus. My specialty is mental health and using nutrition to support mental health treatment, so our discussion will be about how knowing your individual nutritional needs can relieve symptoms related to depression and anxiety, such as fatigue, insomnia, brain fog and irritability.
Types of Oxidizers
There are three oxidation rates: fast, slow and balanced. The fast oxidizer (also referred to as the glucogenic oxidizer) processes carbohydrates for fuel very quickly, functions well on animal protein and fats, and tends to have a more acidic blood Ph. The slow oxidizer (also referred to as the ketogenic oxidizer) processes fats for fuel very quickly, functions better on plant proteins and tends to have a more alkaline blood Ph. The balanced oxidizer is somewhere in the middle and functions well with a balance of everything. If we are eating food that our body doesn’t efficiently burn, it is like putting the wrong gas in a car – over time, it will break down the engine and cause compounding problems. If you are a fast oxidizer, for instance, but eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, your symptoms of depression and anxiety may not resolve until you begin incorporating animal proteins into your diet. Likewise, if you are a slow oxidizer trying to eat a diet high in animal proteins, you may not feel any improvement until you switch to eating a more plant-based diet.
Ideally, a fast oxidizer eats 50% protein, 30% fat and 20% (healthy) carbohydrates. A slow oxidizer would eat 25% protein, 15% fat and 60% (healthy) carbohydrates. They may incorporate lean animal protein like poultry, fish and eggs, but will also do well to eat a wide variety of plant proteins. The balanced oxidizer’s body will run well on about 30% protein, 30% fats and 40% carbohydrates. Unhealthy carbohydrates like refined flours, sugar and preservative-filled packaged goods are damaging to every type of body.
When it comes to protein, there are categories according to a protein’s purine level: high purine, moderate purine and low purine. For the fast oxidizer, higher and moderate purine proteins will help the body function well. For the slow oxider, the focus should be on lower purine proteins.
- High Purine: organ meats (pâté, liver, etc.), herring, mussels, sardines, anchovies
- Moderate Purine: beef, bacon, dark meat chicken, duck, lamb, spareribs, dark meat turkey, veal, wild game, salmon, shellfish (lobster, shrimp, crab), oysters, scallops, octopus, squid, dark tuna
- Low Purine: cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, white meat chicken, turkey, fish, plant proteins
One way to start determining what type you are is to try the Niacin Test. First thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, take 50mg of niacin. If you are a fast oxidizer, you will quickly feel a strong flush (reddening and tightening of the skin, a warming and possibly itchy sensation). A slow oxidizer will feel little to no flush, and a balanced oxidizer may feel a flush that comes on more slowly. If you experience a flush, it will resolve itself within 30 minutes. Just drink water and wait for it to pass.
When I took the niacin test, I felt the flush start almost immediately! When my husband did it, it was gradual, but he did experience a mild flush within about ten minutes of taking the niacin. For each of us, the flush resolved in about 30 minutes. This suggests that I am a fast oxidizer and my husband is a balanced oxidizer. We are tweaking our nutrition accordingly, paying attention to what makes us feel our best.
I am very thankful for the knowledge that my body is unique. Figuring out how to fuel my body has led me to nutritional choices that alleviate fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, irritability and depression. I hope this information can do the same for you!
Korn, L. E.(2016). Nutrition essentials formental health: A complete guide to the food-mood connection. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.